The Bread Baby

Does anyone remember that craze back in the 90’s, where people gave each other little pocket sized computer thingies that you had to ” feed” and “bathe”, or they pinged in an annoyingly loud manner? Or that episode in “Frasier” where Niles attempted to simulate fatherhood by looking after an eight pound sack of flour for a week? No?

I had forgotten them too – but they all came rushing back to me in the early hours of the morning about a month ago, when I found myself under the glare of my kitchen lights, giving it the full Colin Clive and screaming, “It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!!

itsalive
That’s Dr. Frankenstein to you, thank you very much.

I was making my own sourdough bread.

Moreover, I was learning – all too painfully – that making your own sourdough bread is not about the baking the bread, but rather about making the “starter.” And making a sourdough starter is uncomfortably like looking after a small baby for an extended period of time. There’s a lot of feeding and changing, quite a bit of gas, the regular disposal of beige goop, some malodorous smells, and far too much fretting and crying.

How did I get to that darkly cinematic moment in my kitchen in those wee small hours? Not naturally or easily actually. I have always considered myself more of a “cook” than a “baker” but my confidence in baking had truly grown in the last few years. Continue reading “The Bread Baby”

Pickled And Baked

It’s not what you think.  I’m not wallowing in wine or whacked out on weed. (At least not right now.) I do, however, have homemade bread baking in the oven, and I’ve just put up a bunch of pickles. Again, it’s not what you may think.

I haven’t joined a commune in Vermont, delved too far into the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or taken up extreme right-wing ideologies and moved into a nuclear bunker in Tennessee. I’m just trying to stay hip. And for once, I’ve found I haven’t already aged out of the latest trends. Both baking and pickling are tres chic here in the UK. That runaway smash tv show The Great British Bakeoff has taken the nation by storm over the last few years.

mary-berry

Both baking and pickling are tres chic here in the UK. That runaway smash tv show The Great British Bakeoff has taken the nation by storm over the last few years. Continue reading “Pickled And Baked”

And the Winner Is … GBBO 2015

A slightly different format this week as it was THE BIG FINALE.

trio

But a quick note:  I would so watch “Baking with Nadyia & Tamal” – someone make this happen. What is the point in having friends “in the biz” if they can’t make my dream shows happen? Seriously, they are hilarious and adorable and I want them to go on baking adventures together – him wise-cracking and her pulling faces and the baking being glorious. OK, back to business. Continue reading “And the Winner Is … GBBO 2015”

GBBO 2015: Episode 9 (Chocolate)

At last, at last! I am back from my travels and back to recapping Bake Off – and just in time too as we have reached the semi-finals!And it’s CHOCOLATE WEEK! I love chocolate week, not just because I love chocolate but because it is such a wonky thing to work with – whether baking, saucing and building with it – and in this episode, the 4 remaining bakers are asked to all of these things.

group_of_hosts Continue reading “GBBO 2015: Episode 9 (Chocolate)”

Checking Out Chocolate Week

It’s semi-finals week on Bake Off – and in preparation for tomorrow’s episode, I’ve been perusing the chocolate-y challenges that the bakers will have before them. Oh and yes, I know I missed recapping Victorian and Patisserie week. I was traveling and ONLY caught up on them last night.

Signature challenge: a return to pastry but this time around it is chocolate pastry. And in case that wasn’t enough for the chocoholics in the room, said pastry is for a chocolate tart. Helllllllloooo, sailor!

chco_tart Continue reading “Checking Out Chocolate Week”

GBBO 2015: Episode 4 (Desserts)

It might have been raining outside the tent but inside all was dry – and occasionally too crumbly. But never mind, it’s dessert week.

rainy_bakeoff

  • Signature Round: Crème brulee, a classic. But this is GBBO so classic must not equal boring. Yes, it needs to have the right wobble and a hard, crackable surface (the result of grilling, not blow-torching) but it needs to have a twist.
  • Technical Challenge: Spanische Windtorte – or, you prefer, Spanish Wind Cake. Or as I prefer to think of it – a pavlova that got all dolled up and has nowhere to go.
  • Showstopper: cheesecake. But not one, not two – THREE and they must be stacked. Cheesecake is not known for it’s structural integrity to this will no doubt be worth watching.

SANDY: Oh Sandy, I’m going to miss you so much. You were having so much fun and it was fun to watch you. Your wobbles, your sparkly shoes, your joy when things went right, your unwillingness to let things get you down. As I’ve said before, everyone can have an off day – and you weren’t alone this time, Alvin wasn’t having the best of weekends either. But your crème brulee didn’t set – Paul described it as soup and I have to admit, I was with Mary when she expressed doubts about the liquorice flavour. Your showstopper was two tiers and not three – not from lack of stacking effort on your part (and Tamal’s bless his helpful little heart) – but because the cakes were too heavy (the world’s thickest crust didn’t help there) and the bake time was off so the cheesecakes didn’t set. You said yourself – you should have followed your instincts. 🙁

sandy_gbbo
Sandy, I will miss seeing you on next week’s show but by golly, you are a baking role model. I wanna bake with the same sense of fun as you.

IAN: DAMNED, Ian! Star Baker 3rd week in a row? I’d say that Ian is unstoppable but that would be both premature and wrong. After all, Richard Burr (the baking builder of last series with the sassy pencil behind his ear) got Star Baker 3 weeks in a row too. And did he win? he did not. Not that winning matters when it comes to post-GBBO longevity. Winners or not, the baking success and public popularity of contestants seems solely based on their personalities and willingness to continue baking in the public eye.

Ian’s taste combos continue to puzzle Mary and give her pause until she tastes them and then she can hardly shut up about them. Yes, Mary we KNOW no one has ever suggested tarragon and apple to you before but you love it – you’ve said it 4 or 5 times now. He knows tricks no one else seems to know – pre-caramelising the caramel? BRILLIANT and a great way to keep the grill time down! Nothing seems to rattle Ian – or maybe something would if he encountered a problem He seems to bake serenely and steadily, without incident. Surely at some point Ian will be in the middle of something that comes utterly unstuck and we will see the Dalai Lama’s official photographer lose his crackers. But this week – it was smooth sailing, from the creme brulees that Mary adored to the technical challenge that looked amazing and more importantly in this case correct – and finally to his showstopper cheesecakes.

As Paul Hollywood said, “The Ian train blows on, three Star Bakers on the bounce.” That said – it does make you wonder what someone is gonna have to do to beat Ian.

NADIYA: The queen of expressive faces was expressing away all hour – and impressing us not only with the end result on the showstopper cheesecake tower (super fun and super adorable) but also with the steps she made in preparation for it. Reducing 3 fizzy drinks down to syrup over 10 hours? Good gads, woman. And hello? the third meringue of the evening – Nadiya, having survived Swiss and French meringue during the technical challenge, uses Italian meringue for the “fizz” of her fizzy drink. I shall rename her the Marchioness of Meringue. I also note that her brulee is tea flavoured – she does like her tea notes doesn’t she? And adorably served in tea cups. Go, Nadiya! She also had one of the great lines from tonight: “I produced what they wanted, just the ugly version.” None of it was ugly, Nadiya. Stop being so hard on yourself.

nadiyapop

FLORA: We were watching Flora this week and were trying to figure out what it is that makes 19 year old Flora so – well, un-19ish. I don’t mean she looks older than 19. I mean she has the confidence of someone much older at a guess, as was suggested by dungeekin, I’d say Flora grew up not only socializing with children her own age but also spent a lot of time hanging out with the adults as well. Also, she does rock a slightly retro look – which suits her. Interestingly though – she’s kinda firmly upper middle of the pack. She’s obviously a very informed baker, has done it since she was high enough to reach the top of the counter, researches what she wants to do etc … and while engaged in the act of baking, confident, well-spoken relaxed. When being judged she is all nail-biting and winces – and though it doesn’t happen often, when something goes wrong (even though it doesn’t go HIDEOUSLY wrong) she deflates. We know Flora is the eldest of a number of siblings and I suspect a type A child of type A parents.

flora_pipes

PAUL 2: You know, I think Paul 2 just might finally be enjoying himself. Yes, the brulees puffed up too much despite all that practice but his technical challenge was top of the field and his showstopper won smiles all around. After that special commendation-winning lion, we want Paul 2 to stick around so we can see what he does next. His goal this week seemed to be “Get Mary drunk” what with the “adult” creme brulee and the booze soaked cheese cakes. It might have worked if Mary were judging alone but Paul H is made of sterner stuff. From a looks perspective by the by – I adored Paul 2’s cheesecake tower. Those berries were GORGEOUS.

TAMAL: Was very much, in my mind, up for Star Baker this week. Tamal, like Sandy, always keeps his sense of humour about him but unlike Sandy this week, also kept his head. His creme brulees were spot on and during the technical challenge he seemed to be the only person in the tent who KNEW what violets were supposed to look like. This no doubt helped balance out the fact that he only had ONE kind of piping on his Tarted Up Pavlova – sorry, Spanish Wind cake. He leapt in to help Sandy, was even more devastated than she was when her bake went flop but this in no way impacted on his results since his cheesecakes kicked ass from a taste and look perspective. While I have no issue with Ian winning Star Baker – I do think Tamal did JUST as well (if not a SMIDGE better) this week and he deserved it. But you know what? Tamal has been consistently top notch. He’ll get it at some point.

tamal_cheesecake

UGNE: Oh Ugne get your hair out of your eyes. You can’t bake if you can’t see. Also, I am beginning to think Ugne has a bit of a chocolate fixation. Not that this is a bad thing – I myself have one. I just note it and think MAYBE it’s gonna end up getting in the way for her. What becomes important as the episodes click by is showing a breadth of skills and bakes. If it’s chocolate and caramel, every single week someone’s gonna get bored (Paul quite likely) and they will call you out for being too one-note (Again, quite likely Paul but Mary might gently suggest a bit of variety would be welcome). Also, quit using things we’ve never heard of! What the hell is marula?

MAT: Thanks to Mat, we learned that Mary does not care for desiccated coconut. Actually, we learned that Mary has “come to enjoy coconut a bit more” – which translates to “Coconut? Ewwww.” Both of which she said to you, Mat during the first round. So what did you do in the third round? Used coconut. Mat, what I said last week about raising your game still stands. Oh and Mat – stop flirting with Ugne. “how do yours wobble? The brulees that is.” She’s a body builder and will break you in half, assuming Mrs Mat has not done so after the sassiness of last week. Also – Mat, you remember what I said last week about raising your game? Your custard was runny and your judge wasn’t happy. Get on that.

ALVIN: This week Alvin learned that to survive , you don’t have to be better than everyone – just be better than one. And this week, he was ever so slightly better off than Sandy. Well, according to Paul and Mary. I might have made a different decision – especially based on the results of the technical challenge. Both Alvin and Sandy had trouble getting things to set – custard and cheesecake but Alvin really screwed the pooch on the Spanish Wind Torte. There is a definite difference between French meringue and Swiss meringue. If the judges can’t tell the difference when judging, something has gone more than wrong. Another thing – Alvin doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes. More than once, Alvin has been kneecapped by fresh fruit making things too wet. Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Alvin – stop the insanity.

Next week: ‘Free-from’ baking. Yes, it is exactly what you think it is – recipes with no gluten, no sugar or no dairy. Hmmmm …

In the meantime, keep on dancin’ Sandy

sandy_sue_wobble

GBBO 2015: Episode 3 (Bread)

Bread. Amazing stuff bread. It is both basic and complex. Wondrous in its variation and a stern task master.

bread-large

It was bread week on Bake Off and the rounds were as follows:

  • Signature Round: Quick bread –  that would be bread made without yeast and which get their rise from bicarb or baking powder. Or in the case of Unge, both.
  • Technical Challenge: Baguette.
  • Showstopper: Bread sculpture, 3 different breads at least one of which should be filled.

Bread, as we know, also happens to be Paul Hollywood’s THING so his eyes narrow and glint even more than usual, his expression disconcerts and his questions rattle contestants almost as much as his silence.  So, who did what?

DORRET: OK, let’s get this out of the way. Dorret has gone home.  I was not surprised. I don’t think anyone was surprised – and not because Mary let it slip a during an interview earlier in the day.  No, we were not surprised because Dorret seemed overwhelmed and unprepared from the start. Her bakes didn’t come together, her taste balance was off or missing altogether. Maybe the first week can be written off by nerves and settling in but this week showed that Dorret just wasn’t up to the task. She admitted — to the camera and THEN to Mary and Paul — that she didn’t practice the showstopper at all. Now, I know others have “winged it” in the past – James famously winged it all the time but he practiced the base recipe and then improvised a bit on the day. He didn’t just show up with something utterly untested and untried. Also, worth noting that James was a dab hand at taste composition. He got away with a lot because of his abilities in that regard.  Dorret didn’t have that to fall back on and only lasted as long as she did because Stu and Marie made bigger mistakes than she did. This week her previous stumbles caught up with her and her lack of preparation sealed her fate.

No, Dorret didn't seem surprised either.
No, Dorret didn’t seem surprised either.

FLORA:  fig and hazelnut quick bread sounded nice except for the rye flour … I’m not a huge fan and the texture doesn’t thrill me. But Flora is canny and had  mixed her rye flour with regular flour. Her baguettes were baguette shaped ( which put her well ahead of about 6 of the others who had produced ciabatta) and her baguettes relatively crispy since she knew to put water in the oven. And speaking of that step – I know the instructions didn’t say put water in the oven but surely they’ve all seen the show before and they know not all the steps are included. Also I have to believe that as they are all interested in baking and KNOW bread is coming, they’ve looked at Paul’s rule for baking – which includes putting water in the oven for crispness. Hell, I don’t make bread and I know it. As for Flora’s showstopper – I was impressed. Not as impressed as I was about the lion because LION but Flora’s skirt and corset were works of delicate bread art.

PAUL: (who from now on I shall call Paul 2)  – I can hardly remember anything Paul 2 did OTHER than the lion. Hell, I can barely remember the rest of the episode at all – other than the lion. The lion was glorious. A white bread head, a wholemeal tail, and a body filled with figs and walnuts. Paul 2 also seemed slightly more relaxed this week. He wasn’t a laugh riot and he wasn’t the life of the party – I suspect he never will be – but he didn’t seem as uptight as before. Even when Paul H was TRYING to unsettle him.  Dude, the lion was the most rocking thing ever. You deserved that commendation. Oh – also, I applaud the decision to go with a citrus soda bread. Not only did it get you a handshake from Grumpy Paul, it was different and sounded yummy. Keep shaking things up, Paul 2.

breadlion

SANDY: I remain firmly Team Sandy, never more so than when she announced her bacon and onion soda bread.  Bacon, as we know, makes everything better. Sandy is also now a fashion icon for me – while waiting for the baguette dough to prove, Sandy displayed the most fab sparkly slipper shoes. I want them! OK, her baguettes were soft and her sculpture wasn’t sleek and stylish. I don’t care. Sandy is fun, her bread tastes good and I adore her.

IAN: Ian’s soda bread uses wild garlic that he picked himself. I suppose now that all the people who were giving Flora grief for being too posh will now go after Ian. Never mind those people. They don’t know what they are talking about.  The garlic pesto soda bread was awesome and the first of many excellent rounds for Ian, again winner of star baker. His baguettes were the best – even, uniform, crisp. He is bread man. Hear him roar. His showstopper was gorgeous AND innovative. They’d never had anyone bake in a flower pot before on the show. They do like novelty.

bread_flowers

UNGE: a chocolate quick bread? Um … ok. I don’t really – I mean, I have to say it didn’t LOOK very appetising. And Mary said it smelled of raising agent. But once they tasted  it, Paul and Mary were ALL smiles. So, Unge knows more about these things that I do.  That’s OK – I know more about baguettes than she does. You never use a proving drawer at home? No, neither do we – because we don’t have one – but if I were making baguettes on the clock, I’d damned well use a proving drawer. She also threw down during the showstopper about her use of truffle oil. Paul H looked doubtful but she said it would be fine. He’d love the easter basket with bread bunnies, she assured him.

TAMAL: He had me at Goat’s cheese in his quick bread. I was still thinking about the quick bread during the technical challenge so I will overlook his baguette results. I love love love his  ‘breadcycle’ (and the Chelsea bun wheels did hold up – again despite Doubting Paul’s doubts). I was impressed (as I always am) by the braided bread he used as a chain for the bike. I cannot braid bread so I admire those who can.

NADIYA: Like Mat, Nadiya’s quick bread was a spicy Mexican bread but the colour on hers was fab! In fact, the colour of her showstopper bread snake in a charmer’s basket was also remarkable. Especially as she mentions – almost in passing – that when she tried this at home, the snake kept exploding. Nadiya wins for best colour work this week (except for the lion – always except for the lion) and she always wins for most expressive face. Honestly, I hope she doesn’t play poker because her face is like an enormous open book. Big brown eyes, lovely smile and the most flexible face on the show.  I am not the only one who thinks her facial expressions are a highlight each week.

snake_bread

MAT: I thought Mat’s soda bread (the cheddar and smoked salt) sounded lovely. It looked a bit flat and apparently needed to crumble more. His baguettes were pretty bad (yes, Mat, I think it had something to do with your decision not to use the amount of water listed in the recipe. What on EARTH were you thinking?) but he gave the Brighton Pavilion Made of Bread a good go and it held together despite Paul Hollywood’s doubts.  Mat is safe. But as he was told – he has to raise his game.  He also wins innuendo of the week “Doing as my wife says – leaving it in for an extra ten minutes!”

ALVIN: Alvin, like Tamal, has gone for a cheese quick bread. He has used manchego cheese, proscuitto and basil (lots and lots of basil) for a cheese representing the romance languages of Europe. I had my doubts it would hold together but apparently it tasted amazing and looked really impressive. Alvin’s baguette were distinctly ciabatta-like and his showstopper was on the large size as well. But only large in volume – not a sculpture as much as a display of bread like you might find in a bakery window. If the cornucopia horn had been bigger and the bread inside ot it – yes. But it wasn’t. It was just a pile of bread.

allthebread
Impressive bread, yes. But not a sculpture.

All in all, a good week and though there were problems – I think a strong week for most of the field. Especially when you consider that Paul “Bread is my Life” Hollywood was prowling the tent, judgment oozing from every pore of his being.

flora_quote

Next week – desserts, which confuses me as a theme since many of the bakes throughout the competition are desserts. Cake? Hello?